altWhether or not you enjoy Valentine’s Day, there is a hidden benefit: it’s a great occasion to sift through true and false expectations about love.

Yeshua (Jesus) invites us to remember how love works. He points out what cards, candy, flowers or special dinners won’t: there is no way to love without opening ourselves up to pain. When people you love suffer, you suffer. When people you love don’t love you back, you suffer. And the list goes on.

How far will you go to avoid suffering?

Suffering is generally seen as a problem to be avoided – a healthy approach in many situations. But the temptation to avoid all suffering at any cost is dangerous. Those who succumb eventually find their hearts bankrupt, unable or unwilling to risk personal comfort, and too frightened or too numb to love. Had that been the culture of the early church, I wonder how far the gospel would have gone.

I am not suggesting some bizarre form of spiritual masochism. Suffering in itself is not good, and not what God intended for His creation. Yet God can, and often does, work good through suffering. Sometimes our suffering actually creates opportunities for love to flourish. We make sacrifices. Others make sacrifices on our behalf. People show up for one another. For that we can rejoice and be thankful. Maybe you are not suffering right now. In this, too, you can rejoice. But wait – it will happen.

We can thank God that we aren’t suffering as much as we might, but suffering is part of everyone’s reality. So why should you or I be exempt from something that everyone else must endure?

Job said, “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire” (Job 5:7, New Living Translation).

What questions will you ask about suffering?

When suffering strikes, it’s natural to ask God, “Why?” Maybe a more helpful question is “What?” as in “God, what do You want to do in and through me in this time of suffering? How can I experience and pass on Your great love?” It’s right to ask for God to relieve suffering, and He often does.  But let’s not be too quick to fear suffering as the worst thing that can happen, or the first thing to avoid.

C. S. Lewis addresses human suffering in his book The Problem of Pain. He writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

So we are meant to listen for God’s voice when we suffer. But we need more than that. We need comfort.

I find comfort in serving a God who suffered. As famous Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Only a suffering God can help.” Jesus knows our pain. For love’s sake, He has already entered into our suffering, and helps us to bear it. But there’s more. If we belong to Him, we have entered into His suffering and death.  And we will share in His resurrection and glory.

Paul wrote, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church" (Colossians 1:24, New Living Translation). When we bring our suffering to a suffering God, it will always have meaning.  Paul probably would not have had to endure such pain had he not loved Jesus, yet that very love helped him endure the pain.

Suffering transformed

During the Nazi Holocaust, a Lutheran pastor named Ernst Lohmeyer was arrested and condemned for opposing the regime. He was miraculously freed, only to be rearrested and executed by Russians.  Yet he wrote,

If God were to snatch us out of trials we would then be tried in ways that would be endlessly deeper and greater than all the trials that we must endure in human circumstances.  But, dear friends, even in the deepest trials the sound of his voice is perceptible, blowing over us like incense.
(Ernst Lohmeyer, Between the Swastika and the Sickle).

When sin ripped us apart, Jesus did not turn from our suffering; He took it upon Himself and transformed it to everlasting life and love.

Because we love God, we love what He loves. We sometimes suffer for the sake of that love.

In a world that is desperate for love and full of suffering, let’s listen to the voice of God, and feel it blowing over us like precious sweet-smelling incense in the midst of each and every circumstance. Let’s love God and love others... even when love hurts.